Solo or buddy?
The two golden safety principles for scuba divers are ‘never dive alone’ and ‘always stick to your buddy’. Here, I’d like to briefly comment on these principles, focusing in particular on some drawbacks of buddy and group diving, and conditions that may rather spoil than enhance the safety and the peace of mind of individual recreational divers.
The principle of buddy diving First, and most important is that a buddy system can only be fully effective when the buddies stay close to another, and are familiar with basic rescue operations when one of the couple gets in trouble. This could be a lack of air, getting entangled in a fishing line, problems with controlling the BCD or safety sausage, etc. Staying close to another, maintaining regular eye contact and communicating with hand signals are the crucial conditions to increase safety of diving with your buddy. Bob Halstead once defined it clearly as follows: the buddy system is the situation which occurs when two divers of similar interest and equal experience and ability share a dive, continuously monitoring each other throughout the entry, the dive and the exit, and remaining within such distance that they could render immediate assistance to each other if required. Murky water, darkness or a strong current may even necessitate the use of buddy line: a line or strap physically tethering two scuba divers together underwater to avoid separation
On recreational diving trips the buddy system often serves as an automatic safety rule, imposed by dive operators responsible for the safety of the group. For example, divers that travel alone are often coupled to new buddies, often with different experience or diving skills. To guarantee at least the theoretical possibility that they may assist another when an emergency situation turns up. When a diver is not able to stay close to his buddy, he is likely to be told to stay with the group guided by a dive master. The guided group is a excellent option when diving in more difficult conditions such as low visibility, strong currents, or when exploring new and photogenic diving locations. Here the dive master often plays a useful role in pointing out nice subjects to macro- and wide-angle UW photographers.
Solo diving and UW photography. Often a diver carrying a camera, may be the lone camera diver in the boat. He or she will often experience the situation of being left behind by the pack, moving faster that the photographer. This is even more likely to occur during a drift dive, or when a diving group is moving relatively fast along a reef wall or sandy seafloor. Obviously, with low visibility such a situation will unevitably lead to loss of eye contact with the group. The reason is that the group does not allow the individual diver to linger behind. Let’s face it, it takes patience to get good shots, which is terminally boring for a buddy especially when he/she is not making pictures underwater. Such situations may cause tension for the UW photographer and group, and will necessitate a solo ascent for the solo diver using the sausage to signal the dinghy operator at the end of the dive.
These situations, of course, are less likely to occur during UW photography workshops, where divers share a common interest and diving tempo, and dive operators are more lenient in applying the ‘stay with buddy or group’ rule.
In my 40 year of diving, my best solo-diving experiences are the occasions when I went out on my own in the early morning in my dinghy, to visit diving locations in the Mediterranean. I always selected familiar sites, good weather conditions and viz, with little chance of being disturbed by diving groups. Three lines with snap-hooks hanging from the safely moored boat allowed me hook up my camera, diving rig, and weight belt after the dive. In line with these experiences, I’d like to end with another Halstead quote: Safe diving, from my personal experience, involves avoiding other divers underwater as much as possible so that I will not be troubled by their mistakes and being totally self-sufficient, with redundant systems, so that if even I make a mistake I can easily recover*.
* Of course not ruling out the more pleasant and safe forms of group diving.
Francis, John (19 October 2006). "Buddy System Breakdown". Scuba diving. Retrieved 15 October 2017.
Halstead, Bob (September 1997). "Assume the risk and take the blame" (PDF). SPUMS Journal. 27 (3): 153–4. Retrieved 10 November 2017
Layton, Rick (15 July 2012). "When The Buddy System Fails". DAN Europe. Retrieved 15 October 201